If the crowd of bucket hats and sportswear logos outside RMIT’s Storey Hall last month had you fearing you had missed the memo on a secret Odd Future show, you can breathe easy. The horde of hip young things were waiting for something a little nerdier than that.
The occasion? Carbon 2014. Now running in its fourth year, the festival grants fans of urban culture the opportunity to meet and hear their idols—designers behind iconic street and skate-wear brands, self styled musicians who started from the bottom, artists, photographers and tastemakers who run the industry.
This year’s lineup included: artist Patrick Martinez, graphic designer Brent Rollins, fashion designer Mark McNairy, musician Ta-ku and photographers Richard Kern, and Pretty Puke, to name but a few.
Ticket holders at creative conferences like these want two things: inspiration and guidance. “Tell us how to be like you”, they whisper up at the stage. And so the speakers do, revealing their personal journeys, adversities and light bulb moments, throwing in little pep talks along the way.
Here are things I learned from the festival, (including sage advice for anybody headed down a creative path):
America: you should go there.
12 of the 14 speakers either hailed from the States or had relocated there to continue their career. For anybody who wants to make a dent in the world ofstreet culture, you’d best be ‘coming to America’, it seems.
Or maybe don’t go to America, because the internet is changing everything.
The fact that a panel discussion involving creatives who work within the realms of hip-hop, graffiti and street wear can take place thousands of kilometers away from its place of origin—in front of a crowd hanging onto every word—is a mark of this scene’s growth in Australia. At the beginning of the festival, Complex magazine’s editor Noah Callahan-Bever made an offhand remark that something like Carbon could never take place in the US, perhaps because urban culture there is now so normalized and commonplace (living the life of a rapper is apparently one of the top 20 things you could do in America, according to teens), it wouldn’t attract the same level of interest, or hunger to experience this world as it does here. This is still a burgeoning scene in Australia– there’s heaps of space forgrowth, not to mention less competition.
Don’t question the internet generation.
Numerous times throughout the event, older speakers stopped to ask whether the predominantly under 25s audience knew who the obscure hip-hop figure they had mentioned was – only to be met with a resounding chorus of ‘yes’. The streets of Brooklyn may be a long way away from Melbourne but such is the nature of the internet and its ability to fostertribes of hip hop die-hards. Ya know, just globalisation in action.
Creatives are kind of bad at public speaking.
Which is why they paint, or take photos, or express themselves through literally any other medium that is not this. Hey, not everybody is a TED talker. Take solace in how accomplished yet fundamentally awkward creative souls can be.
You gotta please your sponsors.
Spotted: Richard Kern trading his Adidas kicks (official sponsors of the event) for his pair of Nikes as soon as he stepped offstage.
“Take risks, fail gloriously.”
This little nugget came from graphic designer Brent Rollins. Other words of wisdom to scribble onto your bedroom mirror include:“Be a sponge, be an imitator, and then find your own voice”.
You’re not the only one who turned up to your job stoned.
While photographing The Clash pre-gig, Janette Beckman found herself smoking a few joints with the band. Gaze fixated straight through the camera lens, she ended up unwittingly walking onto the middle of the
stage during their performance, before being pulled off by security.
Keep the punk spirit of publishing alive.
“People will tell you ‘don’t start a media business’ but what the fuck else am I supposed to do? What my parents want?” said Stephen Malbon, editor of independent magazine Frank151.
Freelance photographers are poor, if you didn’t know that already.
Commissions are sporadic and Richard Kern will take photos of anything if you pay him.
Freelance artists are also poor.
“The life of a freelance artist is scary when it comes to the bills… so pay me,” added Jeff Soto.
— Catalyst Magazine (@rmitcatalyst) March 30, 2014
You should take photos of your hot friends doing crazy shit.
This is essentially how both Pretty Puke and Richard Kern – divided by decades but united in their documentation of their generation’s club scene– got their start. “Taking photos of friends in weird situations is normal. This shit isn’t taboo. We’re just extremely sexual,” said Pretty Puke.
But don’t fucking exploit your models!
Explain to them what exactly your shoot will entail, especially if it involves nudity. When working in a professional context, always, always, get your model to sign a release. Take a photo of them holding up their ID. Even film them signing the release. You can thank Richard Kern for this.
There’s a 600 per cent mark up between the factory and store floor.
At least in the case of high end fashion designer Mark McNairy, who reminded us of the real cost of quality manufacturing, and had us tugging at our $10 chain store tees nervously.
Sometimes, you gotta do things for the money.
Art book publisher Taschen wanted photographer Richard Kern to shoot a bunch of naked girls in sexy poses. He agreed to do so despite having long lost interest in shooting nude girls. What a life.
Fairytales do happen.
Sheryoand the Yok are the ultimate creative couple, jetting around the world on endless ‘spray-cations’: holidays to exotic destinations composed entirely of sampling new foods and adorning every surface with their graffiti art. Can I get the number of whoever is funding these two?
Art is like, whatever you want it to be
“This is the ‘fuck you’ generation,” said photographer Pretty Puke, who staged a showing of his work on Instagram.
Photographs by Samantha Winnicki. She’s a freelance writer in her final year of journalism at RMIT. In another life she would’ve been a rapper, but for now, Carbon will have to do. She tweets @winnickis